that one girl and life is sweet
 

Chapter 7: Near To You Is Where I Belong

September 29, 1957

He saw that his uncle was still outside, watching him, waiting for him. His arms were crossed in front of him and he was leaning in the doorway. "Hi there, stranger," Regan called out to him. It was hard to judge from his tone of voice just what kind of mood he was in.

"Hey, Uncle Bill." Dan gave him a sheepish grin.

Regan peered at him knowingly. "Have a nice ride with Honey?"

"Uh, yeah, it was great. She showed me the reservoir." Dan tried to stay composed, not wanting to read too much into Regan's temperament.

"Good." Regan grimaced.

"Yeah, it was good." Dan looked at his uncle, and when Regan didn't reply, he turned around and started walking back toward the garage.

"Not so fast," Regan called out to him.

Dan groaned and turned again to face him. "What's wrong, Uncle Bill? Just spit it out, please."

"Okay." Regan stretched out the word and then glanced up toward the house. "Honey's father doesn't think she's ready to date, and I happen to agree." He let out an exasperated sigh.

"I know. But I asked Miss Trask, and I thought she or Jim would chaperone us, but Miss Trask said we could go by ourselves." Dan hoped he wasn't getting Honey or her governess in trouble.

"Yes, I know. She came by and told me so that I wouldn't worry." Regan gestured with his fingers for Dan to come closer.

"What?" Dan asked, still defensive, as he stepped just inside the stables. The smell of horses and hay didn't overtake his senses as it had when he first arrived on Friday. He supposed he was getting used to it.

Regan sat down on a stool and motioned for Dan to do the same. "Listen, Dan. You're ... I have this feeling you're more ... experienced than Honey, and ... you might want more than she can—or should—give."

Dan remained standing. He turned away from the stalls, took a deep breath, and then exhaled it slowly. He looked down, briefly, and then back up at Regan. "You're right. I'm not a virgin, Uncle Bill." He stared at his uncle and kept his voice calm and even.

"Just what I thought." Regan frowned as he swatted at an annoying fly buzzing around. "And you're far too young to—"

"I know." Dan cut him off. He didn't need a lecture from his uncle on yet another mistake he'd made when he was in the gang. Besides, his "experience" had nothing to do with it, really. He felt the anger bubbling up inside him at his uncle's attitude. "I may not be a virgin, but I'm not proud of it, either." He thought about some of the other boys at his school and how they talked about the girls they'd been with. "I'm also not some jerk of a guy wanting to brag about his conquests in the locker room."

Regan's stare was almost unreadable, but Dan could see something there in his eyes, something that made him realize his uncle would accept him, unconditionally, no matter how mad either of them got or how often they argued.

"And—" Dan took another large breath in and out. He lowered his voice, no longer angry. "—I'm not a gang member needing to ... to prove his manhood, anymore. I'm not like that, Uncle Bill. Not anymore. I'm not." His brown eyes locked with Regan's green ones.

Regan swallowed. "I know that's not who you are anymore, Dan. That's not where this is coming from. Honest." His gaze softened.

"Then where is it coming from?" Dan paced back and forth twice in front of his uncle's stool, trying to figure him out.

He caught Regan glancing at the main house.

Was it really just a concern for her? Dan sighed. "I am not going to take advantage of Honey. Do you believe me?"

"I really want to believe you. But you are a teenage boy and ...."

One of the horses snorted softly, almost as if agreeing with his uncle. "And what?"

"And it just takes one moment of weakness for all that control you think you have to go out the window. You—" His uncle sighed. "When you're with Honey—and I have noticed it's only with Honey, just that one girl—you ... it's like you lose your mind. You are so head-over-heels, topsy-turvy crazy about her. And I worry you don't even notice how your body just ... gravitates to her, how you can't even seem to keep yourself from touching her arm, holding her hand, kissing her, and ...." He sighed again. "It's just a small step—it just takes one heat-of-the-passion moment to cross that line, you know?"

Dan finally sank onto the offered stool. "Wow."

Regan let out a soft grunt. "Wow, what?"

"I ... you're right." He managed to smile at his uncle. "You're right."

"I'm glad you realize that. I don't want to be right, though. What I want is to not have to worry about you and Honey being alone together." Regan scuffed at the ground with his boot.

"I have noticed it, though. How I can't keep away from her. You can stop worrying about that, at least." He smirked.

"Oh, that makes me feel tons better," Regan let out sarcastically.

Dan laughed. "Good. Because besides keeping my distance—which I can't, and I won't—noticing it is the only way I have of stopping myself from going too far. Well, that, and thinking of my old P.E. coach, sitting on a bench in the locker room with his shirt off." He shuddered elaborately. "Real mood killer, that image."

"Whatever gets you through the day." Regan grinned back at him.

The stable was silent for a moment, save that buzzing fly.

Regan nodded at Dan. "I'm really proud of you, you know?"

"No, why?" He really couldn't imagine why anyone would be proud of him.

His uncle gazed at him with admiration. "Being mature, responsible, trustworthy. You're a good person, Dan. God only knows how you managed it with everything you've been through, but you are a good person."

"Aw. It's all thanks to my parents; all four of them." Dan punched his uncle on the arm lightly. "Them, and this pretty cool uncle of mine."

 

Dan sat at the small table in the kitchen, his notebook open to a clean page. The pen in his hand felt comfortable, but the words he was about to write didn't. He hadn't let the memory surface completely while he was talking with his uncle in the stables, but now that he was alone in the apartment and able to process his thoughts, images of those days in the gang were crowding into his head.

The page was still blank. He knew if he wrote anything down, it made it that much more real; it made it permanent. And there was a very dark side of his past that he didn't want to be real. He couldn't write it down. There was no way he'd risk anyone finding his notebook and reading about those particular events.

He stared at the page, willing it to be filled with happier thoughts. He tried. His mind drifted to Crystal. The image of her bright bubble-gum pink lipstick that never seemed to fade stuck in his head. Those were some kissable lips, when she wasn't high, anyway. Only, when he thought about kissing her now, all he could think is that she wasn't Honey.

But Crystal had saved him the night that Paul had beaten him near to death. He owed her everything. And he wasn't sure if he'd ever repaid her, if he ever could. He had asked Judge Armen if he knew where she was now, and the judge had checked in with her aunt in Pennsylvania. She was fine. She was sober, cleaned up, and even back in school.

Still, he couldn't bring himself to write about her. Not in relation to that long-ago night, not in relation to the gang at all. But he wondered if she still wore that same shade of pink. He smiled at the thought.

He looked at his blank page again, wanting to write but not knowing what to write. He put the tip of the pen to the paper and found himself starting off the paragraph with words that spoke about the days after the gang. Maybe not happier, but better than where he'd been. Eating food rummaged out of the garbage was something he would have never thought he'd have in common with a beautiful, millionaire heiress whose life, from the outside, probably appeared to be 'perfectly perfect', as she was fond of saying. Appearances were hardly ever reality.

But as he wrote the words, he knew that if he included Honey's story, and if anyone found this and read it, he'd have broken Honey's trust. No, he'd keep her secret, if that's what she wanted. So he left that out and kept only to his story. He finished writing.

But a thought nagged at him. He looked around the kitchen, wondering if his uncle had a measuring tape somewhere. Probably down in the stables. He took two sheets of paper out of his notebook and then got up to look in the kitchen catch-all drawer for some kind of tape. By sheer luck, he found some. He taped the long end of one paper to the short end of the other, and then taped the other two edges, making an uneven circular tube.

Nineteen inches? The pages, the way he had them taped, should be close to that. He couldn't even imagine someone being that skinny. He was glad Honey had gained weight, but it worried him all the same. He knew there was a name for what she had described, a disease or disorder or something. He'd have to ask Neil, or maybe he could find out something by just leafing through some of the medical journals in their room.

The mood that had overtaken him since his talk with his uncle was still there. Happier thoughts. The image of Honey laughing about Henry the Eighth, whatever that story was, brought a smile to his face. He turned the page, needing to keep it separate from his other writing. He tried to describe how she looked when the laughter was overtaking her. He wished he could just draw her, but his drawing skills were pretty much nonexistent. The last thing he wanted was to draw Honey as a stick-figure. He sighed heavily at the unintended parallel.

The thought brought him to the sketches on Jim's desk. Jim had a lot of darkness in his past, too. A different kind of darkness, but dark all the same. Dan turned another page and started a new essay, one on writing versus drawing and how they each had their own way of helping a person get through negative thoughts and emotions.

His hand started cramping and he stopped to massage his fingers. He thumbed back through what he had written. It was a lot. More than he had written in one sitting in a long time. It felt good. With a sigh, he closed the notebook and took it back to his room, dropping it in the overnight bag, ready to go.

 

Dan felt almost sad leaving Sleepyside that evening. Every time he saw his uncle, he felt like they got that much closer, connected that much more, and it always made it harder to say goodbye. And if he thought about Honey, and how if he had chosen to live with his uncle, she'd be right there, living next door in the big house—that made it harder still.

But if he thought about his destination, where he was going and not what he was leaving behind, everything became easier. Home was still home, and he couldn't wait to get back to Mama and Pops and his goofy brothers. It's where he belonged. He just wished he could bring Uncle Bill and Honey home with him, sometimes.

He wondered if he could talk Mama into letting Honey spend the night in Brooklyn. Maybe if it was Honey and Jim. Or all the Bob-Whites. Then he laughed. Where would they all stay? Still, the idea appealed to him, and he was sure Neil and Harvey wouldn't mind, either.

Honey. He thought of her again. Honestly, he thought about her all the time. He'd gone out with other girls, but none were like her. What was that his uncle had said? Head-over-heels, topsy-turvy crazy. That seemed about right. He grinned, remembering their kiss. He hoped it would hold him until he was able to see her again, to kiss her again. She was definitely that girl, the one his Mama had told him about, the one who would hold his heart.


Epilogue: your kisses are sweet